Celebrating Food and Wine in Bordeaux

This week, we roam France, sampling three regional cuisines: the richness of Gascony, the earthy pleasures of Médoc, and the new vibrancy of Bordeaux (below). Also check out the Food section’s guide to French cooking and our survey of five classic specialties, from bouillabaisse to galettes.

Yet it’s the food scene that has taken center stage, and today, the honey-colored heart of Bordeaux’s left bank is cluttered with interesting new offerings like experimental modern bistros, elaborate sanctums of haute cuisine and cozy button-down gastrobars.

“It’s a totally new city,” said Jean-Denis Le Bras, a chef who moved to Bordeaux last year to reopen the restaurant La Grande Maison, in a six-bedroom luxury hotel, with the Michelin-three-starred French chef Pierre Gagnaire. Mr. Le Bras last spent time in the city 25 years ago, back when it was “dark and dodgy,” he said. Now, he added, “It’s very dynamic … there’s so much to do.”


Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

Owned by the French multimillionaire wine magnate Bernard Magrez, La Grande Maison opened in late 2014 in a stately 19th-century white stone mansion set back from the street by tall wrought-iron gates that enclose a valet-manned circle drive and a 2,000-year-old Andalusian olive tree. The Napoleon III-style interiors feature blown-glass chandeliers, opulent stone and embroidered silk.

Mr. Magrez initially worked with Joël Robuchon, among the world’s most decorated chefs, but replaced him over the summer with Mr. Gagnaire, who has redone the menu with dishes like creamed hen pheasant consommé with zero-dosage brut Champagne, served with crispy white cabbage, prune and aloe vera, all part of a 60-euro (about $63) “hunting” trio off the à la carte menu. A four- and seven-course degustation costs €135 and €185. Then there’s the wine list, as elaborate as one might expect from Mr. Magrez, with more than 160 chateaus and every cru classé (a term denoting recognized, high-quality vineyards) from the Bordeaux region.

But the city’s abundant food scene includes more casual offerings as well. My first stop was Garopapilles, a 20-seat restaurant and wine cellar that opened two and a half years ago on a quiet leafy street in Bordeaux’s center. The chef, Tanguy Laviale, 35, presides over a small open kitchen at the end of the rustic-chic dining room, which looks on a glassed inner courtyard planted with aromatic herbs. Mr. Laviale was designated a Great Chef of Tomorrow in the 2016 Gault Millau guide for his rotating, seasonally driven prix fixe “market menu,’’ available Tuesday to Friday for lunch and Thursday and Friday for dinner.


The dining room at Miles, which is near the Place de la Bourse. Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

Lunch, including starter, main and dessert, costs €32, with optional wine pairing by the house sommelier (the five-course tasting dinner menu is €59). Ours began with a selection of amuse-bouches: bell pepper cream with feta cheese over a bed of black caviar, a clam served in the shell topped with a smoked lard emulsion foam. Then came a marbled, luscious foie gras terrine served with a bright quince purée, pickled porcinis and a mushroom shizu sauce, followed by veal in mushroom sauce served with tomato, oyster and wakame seaweed, a swirl of earthy complexity, finished with a dessert of delicate white cheese ice cream with mango crème and pumpkin espumante purée.

Around us, 40-something men in unbuttoned blazers and thick-rim glasses swirled glass after glass selected from the carefully curated, 500-strong wine list, knowledgeable waiters expounded on the ingredients and several young couples seemed to be Instagramming the better part of their meal. The vibe was urbane but convivial; everyone appeared to be having a good time.

Garopapilles is one of several modern French restaurants recently opened in Bordeaux by impressive young chefs, including locavore Belle Campagne, inside a townhouse in the city center; Le Chien de Pavlov, a bistrot that has earned raves for dishes like crab and Kaffir lime ravioli; and Côté Rue, which, since opening in July 2015 near the Musée d’Aquitaine, has become one of the hottest seats in town. Côté Rue’s open-kitchen dining room, featuring 18th-century crown molding and bold abstract oil paintings, is regularly booked by stylish locals who come for the innovative dishes like beechwood smoked beef with cinnamon leaf and foie gras with citron and Jerusalem artichoke.


An offering at Garopapilles Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

“So many young chefs are here in Bordeaux right now,” said Rudy Ballin, 25, Côté Rue’s head chef. “The same thing happened in Lyon 15 years ago,” he added. “Everyone wants to move to Bordeaux because so much is happening, so there’s all this young energy, and people move here, start their own businesses, try new things.”

A sizable segment of Bordeaux’s new wave has turned east, bringing Asian influences to play on native culinary styles at relaxed neo bistros like the Franco-Cantonese restaurant Dan as well as Miles, which has attracted a cult following since opening three years ago in the center near the Place de la Bourse. Miles’s experimental melding of geographical influences is inspired by the provenance of its three owner-chefs, from France and French Polynesia, Israel and Japan.

At Miles, as at so many of Bordeaux’s neo bistros, a rotating multicourse tasting menu is served from a small open kitchen: pleasingly avant-garde concoctions like hazelnut oil confit egg yolk with smoked chestnut purée and raw mushrooms, or sous vide monkfish with miso-roasted eggplant, mussel foam and a gremolata of coconut, coriander and lime.


The resturant Garopapilles. Credit Susan Wright for The New York Times

A year ago, the team behind Miles opened a more informal restaurant nearby: Mampuku (Japanese for “full belly”). Shared plates focus on the street food of the chefs’ places of origin, like steamed Vietnamese bao buns stuffed with braised beef cheek and cilantro; grilled and smoked eggplant with honey, Israeli-style labane sauce, pomegranate and fresh herbs; and “Saba Tastutaage,” crispy mackerel and broccoli tempura served with umeboshi, daikon radishes and a yuzu-ginger dip. On a recent Saturday afternoon, lunch guests filled the cavernous dining room, sampling the diverse offerings over what seemed like a great many bottles of wine.

You have to go farther upriver, though, to visit the city’s most newsworthy gastronomical attraction: La Cité du Vin, a museum of wine and viticulture that opened in June. Designed by XTU Architects to mimic wine swirling in a glass, the shimmering 10-story aluminum-and-glass facade towers over the partially redeveloped docklands of the Bassins à Flot district.

Some seven years and $90 million in the making, La Cité du Vin at times seems more like a theme park than a museum. There are copious 3-D projections, holograms, interactive elements and even a ship simulator that reimagines the maritime journeys of wine merchants throughout history. Thanks to video mapping technologies, an Armenian feast magically appears on a white table, then transforms into a traditional Jewish festive spread, as a virtual guide explains various culinary and viticultural traditions.

In the “gallery of civilizations,” light boxes feature 3D animations tracing wine culture from ancient Greece and Egypt up to the present and a “buffet of the five senses,” where visitors can test different smells by releasing them from glass cloches. There are video installations devoted to wine’s role in religion, mythology, eroticism and the arts, with special attention paid to the history of viticulture in Bordeaux and the surrounding region of Aquitaine, where some of the world’s best wine has been harvested for two millenniums.

La Cité du Vin also features a wine shop with more than 800 varieties, a 250-seat auditorium and Le 7, a hit-or-miss fine dining restaurant.

Yet Bordeaux’s most enticing gastronomic attraction still may be one of its oldest: the Marché des Capucins, a huge covered food market in the heart of the multicultural St.-Michel district that dates to the mid-1700s. Known colloquially as the “belly of Bordeaux,” the Marché des Capucins is a pandemonium of scents, flavors and ungentrified French charm. Under the domed roofs of adjoining market halls, locals visit the seafood stands to consume oysters and sauvignon blanc, and to inspect crates of ruddy-red heirloom tomatoes and cabbages that evoke Émile Zola’s account of “exquisite flowery masses the color of wine, crimson and deep purple.”

Cheese sellers offer brusque expertise while slicing off luxurious chunks of Chaubier and Roquefort, and men drink espresso and roll cigarettes at free-standing counters, as they have for centuries. There’s nothing innovative or trendy about it, and yet here, perhaps more than anywhere in the city, you can feel that behind Bordeaux’s recent culinary success is a long-held and enduring passion for food deep in the heart (and belly) of its inhabitants.

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